Published on May 20th, 2017 | by Boris


It was a visual paradox of galactic proportions. Outside Lilianfels, the most genteel, scone-rich, chintz-and-wallpaper pile of bricks in the Blue Mountains, stood a grim mechanical array of pure Austrian venom.

This was the Australasian launch of KTM’s latest and manifestly greatest range of point-of-the-spear adventure bikes.

And it looked like some kind siege.

This is the ‘little one’. A mere 1090.

All the Adventure all the time. Behold the R.

And the S. I’ll just ‘leaves’ this here.

Rich old people arriving in their Mercs would ask me with quivering voices, “What’s going on?”

“Adventure,” I would reply grimly. “Brutal, brilliant, bang-arse adventure with a touch of orange.”

“What are those motorcycles?” a more adventurous pensioner asked, standing well back from the weapons-array lest he get bitten.

“Those are KTMs,” I intoned, my voice reverent.

“Never heard of them,” the old fellow advised me.
“They have never heard of you either, Jim,” I said.

“My name’s not Jim.”

“See?” I shrugged.

I suit Autumn. It’s very slimming.

I was, of course, familiar with many of KTM’s offerings. I had ridden nearly all of its range over the last few years, and I have more than a few mates who own and love their Austrian hate-beasts. Hard-nosed and harder-edged riders, every one of them. None of them would even consider another motorcycle.

I fell deeply for the marque a year or so before I had even ridden one of its bikes, which was around 2004.

My heart blossomed with love for KTM when it refused to sponsor Ewan McGregor’s and Charlie Boorman’s pasteurised TV show, Long Way Round (sic). My favourite part of that entire tedious and misleading knob-rubbing fest was seeing Boorman lisping around his office tearing down KTM posters in a temper tantrum after being told KTM was not interested in being involved. Oh, and I really liked the bit when he sprayed Ewan in the face with petrol. That was my second-favourite bit.

Running away from the cave-ogres.

Anyway, Ewan and Charlie went on to do their trip on BMWs, which sold metric shit-tonnes of GSs as a result, and KTM just got on with the business of being KTM. And winning Dakar and stuff.

In my mind, and the minds of many of my friends, KTM’s decision not to indulge Boorman and his mate, cemented it as the edgier and more …well, serious, I guess, of the two brands.

Each time I look at a GS I see Boorman and McGregor. Each time I look at a KTM, I see Toby Price, Chris Birch, and Ryan Dungey.

And in real terms, KTM does do things differently enough to warrant that view.

It does rule a big chunk of the Enduro and Hard Enduro world. It plays at every level of MotoGP. And it plays hard.

So at the KTM Adventure launch, I was in equal parts shitting my pants and overdosing on excitement.

Yeah, this is well pointy and speary and KTMy.

It’s one thing seeing Chris Birch riding his KTM up terrifying cliffsides on one wheel. It’s a whole other thing when broken middle-aged bastards throw their leg over one of these weapons and try not to die.

But I did not die. I did crash. It was an elegant and delightful judo-like O Goshi into a deep puddle which reduced most of my colleagues to tears of laughter, and damaged nothing on the bike or me. Hell, not even my pride was dented, since I don’t have any of that.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

I shall first address the 2017 bikes and what’s been done to them, and I’ll tell you how I rolled if you care enough to read that far.

There were three KTM bikes on offer. The 1290 Super Adventure R, the 1290 Super Adventure S, and the 1090 Adventure R – and this is how I found them to be…

Um…yeah, there is this.


I spent more time riding the road-oriented S than the dirt-oriented R. It’s just the way things played out during the launch.

The riders were split into two groups, road and dirt, and the plan was to swap the groups at lunchtime. But when you make plans, the Road Gods tend to unmake them for you. My group was meant to ride bitumen in the morning, with a bit of easy dirt tossed in here and there, and get our Hard Enduro on in the arvo. The group doing the Hard Enduro in the morning had a bunch of flat tyres and didn’t manage to get to the swap-over lunch-spot until well after the road group had had its lunch. So time got away from everybody.

I’m only telling you this in case you’re wondering why I’ve focused my report more on the S than the R. I spent way more time on the S, but I did manage to bin the R in the brief period of time I got to ride it.

There are no images of me astride the 1290R. It was too dark. So there are no images of me lying in a puddle after crashing it. But this is what it looked like seconds before it all went pear-shaped. Honest.

Firstly, the R and S share a lot of hardware. They both have the same magnificent 6.5-inch TFT Gorilla Glass dash (best dash on any bike ever), new illuminated switchgear, the intimidating LED headlight with its built-in integrated cornering lights – the harder you lean, the more light gets thrown into the dark bits of the corner. The headlight unit is linked to Bosch Internal Measurement Unit which also issues stern German commands to the MSC (Motorcycle Stability Control), MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control) and cornering ABS, and deals with the four rider modes (Sport, Street, Rain and Offroad). You also get a USB-capable phone-storage compartment, keyless ignition and tyre-pressure monitors.

But that’s where the sameness stops.

The R really is all about the dirt, and the S is certainly dirt-capable, but it is a road-focused bike through and through.

Same engine, frame and electronics, but different suspension and wheels.

In the interests of disclosure, the bikes I rode had a bunch of genuine KTM aftermarket goodies fitted, so you’ll bear that in mind when you’re reading this. I was not riding a bog-stock S or R.


On bitumen, the S is a machine of conquest, capability and charisma.

KTM has taken another step forward on the journey it has embarked on, which is to provide skilled riders all the bike they need to go all the places they want at whatever speeds they reckon make them happy.

There’s certainly nothing out there that can compete with the KTM at the pointy end, except maybe the BMW S1000XR, and that’s a great argument to have. The KTM is certainly up with the Beemer in terms of electronic sophistication. And 160horses and 140Nm is as serious as it gets.

OMFG…is that a tabletop?

I rode the S to Jenolan Caves, up the other side, through Shooters Hill and on to Sofala. This is fast bitumen. It is also, at times, and especially on the descent to the caves, very tight and challenging bitumen.

The big S was completely unfazed. In Sport mode (hell, in any mode) it is one of the most exciting and rewarding motorcycles I have ever ridden. The engine hands you torque like a bank-teller throws cash at a robber. It could not be any more eager to feed you its Newton-metres.

The seat can be adjusted. You can have 860mm or 875mm. Or you can have surgery to get longer legs. It sits on road-happy cast-alloy wheels and rubber – 19-inches in front and 17-inches on the back.


It’s like TV, only far more informative. It does and shows many more things. The images don’t do it justice.

It will alter its brightness depending on the ambient light.

The S comes with electronic semi-active WP suspension, which is adjustable on the fly if you pull the clutch in, and it’s independent of the Ride Modes. So there’s a lot of scope for dialling in your own levels of everything. You can turn everything off and trust in yourself, or you can dial in bits and pieces of whatever you reckon you need.

I felt the suspension would need some set-up from the rider’s end, because like most of electro-buggery bouncers, they work really well, but you have to spend some time setting them up. I was not able to screw around too much with mine on the launch, which was probably a good thing in terms of not terrifying the poor Asian bloke who got the bike after me. The downside was the front-end felt a little “mind-your-own-business” to me on the bitumen, ie. It wasn’t exactly providing the feedback I would have liked given the speeds I was doing.

I know how good these things are when they’re sorted, so I’m not passing judgement on the electro-bouncers until I spend more time with the bike.

There was a Travel Pack fitted to the S, which gives you Hill Hold Control, Bluetooth connectivity via KTM MY Ride, a Motor Slip Regulator, and a great up-and-down quickshifter.

Electronically, it can be a bit overwhelming. There is a lot going on. And there needs to be. This is a cutting-edge $23,995 motorcycle (without the accessories). It had better come with every bit of technical sorcery there is, or it just won’t be a player in this market segment.

“Bow down, mortals…”

…and let me illuminate you.”

KTM does not disappoint in that regard. All the chocolates have been brought.

One school of thought considers it all just ‘too complex’ and rather counter-intuitive to the term ‘adventure’. What do you do when your prionic trimodulator shits itself in Eritrea? Look for a witchdoctor?

The pro-whizzbangery school of thought understands this stuff keeps getting better all the time, is pretty robust to begin with, and quite frankly makes the bike ever so much more rideable and useable. I’m sure you’re different, but I’m pretty good with 160 horsies being civilised by a computer.

It really does excel on the bitumen.

So colour me impressed with the S.

A man could cross continents on it. Very quickly.

A man could take himself very seriously on the Adventure S.

Go ride one. Tell me I’m lying.


I spent far less time on the R, as I explained. But I spent enough time on it understand it is the Daddy of all Adventure bikes. It’s a monster. In fact, it’s THE monster. But the monster is so well-mannered, collared as it is by NASA-amounts of electronic wizardry, you’ll only see its sabre-tooth-sized fangs if you go looking for them.

At 217kg dry, its updated 160bhp engine pounds out 140Nm of torque, with 108 of those torques being available at 2500rpm – which is really special. It’s the most powerful adventure bike yet built. Its direct competitor, BMW’s RallyEx (in and of itself a stunning motorcycle) produces a ‘mere’ 125 horsies and 125kW of torque. But, and this is a big but, put the KTM in Offroad mode and it dials itself down to 100 horses. The BMW stays at 125 all the time, no matter what mode it’s in.

Once again, I wasn’t on the 1290 R in daylight. But this would have been standard operational procedure. Followed by massive impact with a tree.

Now unless your name is Toby and Red Bull pays your bills, I’m thinking 160 stallions on a fire-trail is the kind of mad I just can’t deal with.

Happily, the KTM still offers weapons-level torque in Offroad mode, skimming some of it off the top-end, but leaving it down low where it’s needed. Once again, none of you are ever going to need or want 200km/h plus on the dirt. No, shut-up. You’re not.

But please don’t take my word for it. By all means leave the R in Sport mode when you hit the dirt. Turn off your traction control, etc. Then go your hardest with all that power. Be a man. See what happens.

And this is the inherent and diabolical beauty of the Super Adventure R – if your skill-set is wanting, it’s happy to accommodate you. It’ll just burble along. It won’t judge you. That’s what your mates are for.

The heart of the monster. Caged in orange. For safety.

But if your skill-set is there, then the Super Adventure R is there for your skill-set. And I’ll bet good money there’s not a rider out there who will ever want ‘more’ from the monster.

It sits on spokes – 18-inches at the back and 21-inches at the front and its seat is 890mm off the ground. Which is a long way. And I guess it needs to be. You’re closer to God up there and you won’t have to yell as loud to be heard.

The R utilises full-adjustable WP units, offering 220mm of travel at both ends and gives the bike 250mm of ground clearance. The forks are 48mm WP units with an increased spring-rate and the rear WP unit is directly mounted to the swingarm with no linkage.

And this set-up worked just fine.

As KTM’s Marketing Manager, Gustav Greiner pointed out to me, “You will never see a shaft-drive on a KTM. Ever.”

Certainly watching Chris Birch fly through the air and land time and again without major distress convinced me of this.

But I managed to crash the bike, so I know what that’s about.

Coming out of Blackfellas Fingers, it was almost dark, I was wearing tinted goggs, I was tired and cold and there were deep holes and mud. I was riding like crap and then the front-end went somewhere because I was being shit, and I back-flopped into a massive puddle while the big R went and lay down in some damp ferns.

I picked myself and the monster up (it was still running), threw my soggy body back onto the saddle and rode out of the ferns and back onto the track. The bike was unmarked and I was unbroken. So that went pretty well, I thought.

The S has a taller screen than the R. Both are adjustable, but the thinking behind the smaller screen for the dirt is to prevent you smashing your face into a tall screen on massive jumps when you’re hanging over the front of the bike. This did not happen to me. But I’m sure it’s important for Chris Birch.

The seat on the R is a one-piece non-adjustable jobbie and the trellis frame is orange, presumably so the rescue choppers can spot you better.

It’s very comfortable. But you don’t spend a lot of time on it.

The R I rode came with a selection of Power Parts, to wit: an Akro pipe and the ‘Rally Package’, which gives you dirt pegs, a bash plate and radiator guard, a carbon heat-shield for the catalytic converter, as well as very clever easy-clean-easy-access dust pre-filters on the air intakes.

Hand on my heart, this bike is beyond me and my humble needs. It is so much more motorcycle than I would ever need. It is intimidatingly vast and mesmerizingly powerful, and if you’re new to this segment of the market, I would suggest you approach the monster with circumspection.

Cliffs? Meh. Up or down. Don’t give a shit.

But if your kung fu is strong…if your heart is sound…if your spirit is screaming for the nil plus ultra of uber-motorcycles, then, as John Wayne once said: “Fill your hands, you son-of-a-bitch!” and fill them with KTM Super Adventure R’s handlebars.

You will not be disappointed.


And so I come to the ‘little one’, which I rode for about 60kms on the bitumen and then onto the dirt at Blackfellas Fingers.

The ‘little one’ is actually not so little. It weighs about 10kg less than the 1290. It’s just as tall, with a seat-height of 890mm. But for all sorts of reasons, it’s a much rawer dirt-oriented banger than its big mate. And it feels smaller to ride and is an even more dirt-focused bike than the 1290R.

I had fern feelings about this place.

Not quite the technical extravaganza of the 1290, is it?

It is also a perceptible improvement over the old 1050 in terms of suspension. It scores the same forks as the 1290 and boasts a WP PDS rear shock similar to KTM’s racing Enduro bikes.

The engine is a sweeter nut than the 1050, outputting 125 horses and 109Nm of torque. It’s certainly no slouch…but it’s no 1290 either.

Still, it’s less intimidating off the bitumen than the 1290 R. In Offroad mode, the package is just right in terms of ABS involvement versus rider-terror output.

Clearly not me. But you get the idea. I can do this, by the way. I just can’t land it.

There’s a power-assisted slipper clutch, traction control, ABS and four ride modes, Sport, Street, Rain and Offroad – displayed on a now dated-looking-by-comparison dash to the 1290. I couldn’t help but get the impression this was a stop-gap bike to maybe a new model in this class coming in the next year or so. I’m guessing, of course.

It’s priced at $19,995, so it’s a fair chunk of change cheaper than the big boys.

I’m thinking people who don’t want or need the spectacular electronic suite adorning the 1290s, will look at the 1090 with interested eyes. It’s a much simpler bike in those terms – which is not a bad thing.

“Please don’t leave the ground…please don’t leave the ground…”

Like its bigger siblings, service intervals are 15,000km, which is great, and as an overall dirt-focused package, it’s pretty damn handy.

Mean-eyed, hard-core desert-runners will buy this bike. Chris Birch is going to contest the next Erzberg Rodeo on this bike. It really isn’t the forgotten cousin on KTM’s new Adventure range. The 1090 R might not be as glamorous, as powerful, or as domineering as the 1290, but it makes up for that by being much easier to ride in the rougher stuff by people who are not Chris Birch.

Brakes? You mean Coward Pedals?


I’ve done some thinking on this.

If I was in the market for this kind of specialised weaponry, which way would I jump?

If I was all about the dirt, I guess I’d still buy the 1290 over the 1090. Because if I bought the 1090, I’m sure there would be times and roads when I wished I had spent the extra bucks and bought the Monster. And while the 1090 is better than the 1050, it still feels a little dated in a market-segment that is really making giant technical strides each year. So, yeah, the 1290 R over the 1090 R.

But the 1290S is the one I’d really pick. I do and will always do far more road than dirt. So it stands to reason I’d pick the more bitumen-friendly 1290 S over its bigger-wheeled and dirty brother.

KTM has come out swinging in 2017. It has markedly improved its entire range of Adventure bikes over last year’s models and brought technical innovation and some real pizzazz to the table. One look at the dash on the 1290s will tell you that.

Its place at the pointy end of the Adventure spear remains intact and sharper than ever.



You may view all the technical specifications (and there are many and they are vast) of all three bikes HERE.


About the Author

is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.

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